The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum is the presidential library and museum of
35th President of the United States, John F. Kennedy. It is located on Columbia Point in
the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts, next to the Boston campus of the
University of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Archives. It was designed by the
architect I. M. Pei.
The building is the official repository for original papers and correspondence of the Kennedy Administration, as well as special bodies of published and unpublished materials, such as books and papers by and about Ernest Hemingway. The library and museum were dedicated in 1979 by President Jimmy Carter and members of the Kennedy family.
I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to the Library. I have wanted to go to the Library for years and things just seemed to fall into place during this trip.
I, like so many Americans of my generation, can recall in detail the day that President Kennedy was killed. I was a junior in high school. I had just taken a break during my electronics class. I was at the water fountain when the announcement was made over the intercom. I will never forget the reaction and sounds for the next few minutes. A lot of those thoughts came back during my visit to the museum.
The library has so much to offer. I highly recommend a visit if you are in the area. In addition, the library has a fantastic view of the Boston skyline, across the Boston Harbor. This being my first visit to the Boston area, I soaked it all in. Beautiful city full of American history!
Special note to active duty military: Let the folks at the Welcome/Ticket Desk know you are active duty military. There is an unadvertised big discount awaiting you.
History of Library's Development
During a weekend visit to Boston on October 19, 1963, President Kennedy, along with John Carl Warnecke - the architect who would design the President's tomb in Arlington - viewed several locations offered by Harvard as a site for the library and museum. At the time there were only four other Presidential Libraries: the Hoover Presidential Library, the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library, the Truman Library, and the Dwight D. Eisenhower Library. They were all scattered around the country in small towns from New York to Iowa. Kennedy had not decided on any design concept yet, but he felt that the existing Presidential Libraries were placed too far "away from scholarly resources."
Kennedy chose a plot of land next to the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration. The building would face the Charles River which was a few feet away, and on the other side of which, the dormitories that included Winthrop House where Kennedy spent his upperclassman days. Kennedy was assassinated a month later, on November 22, 1963.
Since Kennedy encouraged his Administration to save effects of both personal and official nature, the complex would not just be a collection of the President's papers, but "a complete record of a Presidential era." And so, the building would have the word museum appended to its name: John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.
After President Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963, his family and friends discussed how to construct a library that would serve as a fitting memorial. A committee was formed to advise Kennedy's widow Jacqueline, who would make the final decision. The group deliberated for months, and visited with architects from around the world including Pietro Belluschi and others from the US, Lucio Costa from Brazil, and Italy's Franco Albini. Mrs. Kennedy and others met with the candidates together at the Kennedy Compound in Hyannis, Massachusetts, and visited several in their offices. The committee also conducted a secretive process whereby the architects voted anonymously for the most capable of their colleagues.
Progress on the building began shortly after his death. On January 13, 1964, the then Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy announced that a taped oral-history project was to be undertaken for inclusion in the library. The project would feature his Administration staff, friends, family and politicians from home and abroad. The Attorney General also announced that Eugene R. Black, Sr. agreed to serve as chairman of the board of trustees and that $1 million of Black's $10 million goal had been given to the trust by the Joseph P. Kennedy Jr. Foundation.
The oral-history project also began recording, starting with Mrs. Kennedy and Robert Kennedy. Originally projected to consist of interviews with 150 people, 178 had agreed to participate and the total number of expected participants doubled to 300, with just one person declining to take part, aSecret Service agent.
Also by this time fourteen architects were named to serve on a design advisory committee.
In January 1966, when Massachusetts Governor John A. Volpe signed a bill allowing the state to purchase the land for the site - an old train yard belonging to the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority - it was expected that the project would be complete by 1970. The original design was a large complex comprising the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum, the John F. Kennedy School of Government, and an Institute of Politics. However the project faced many delays. The Transit Authority would not agree to remove the heavy machinery from the land until 1970. By that time construction costs had risen to over $20 million. Only now could Pei prepare a six-month study of the site's soil, and he said the "money we had six years ago, today will barely pay for 60 percent of the original plans."
By 1971, construction had still not begun; researchers and scholars were forced to work out of the Federal Records Center which was temporarily housing some of the 15 million documents and manuscripts. Pei said there was finally "a clear way ahead," however, he was asked to save on construction expenses by using inexpensive materials. This would translate into Pei working with concrete instead of his preferred stone.
Meanwhile, the Cambridge community was in fierce opposition to having the library being built in Cambridge at all. Although originally welcomed in 1965, the library was now seen as a great attractor of over a million annual tourists who would change the neighborhood with "hordes of tourists, automobiles, fast-food franchises and souvenir shops," as well as cause a negative environmental impact. One neighborhood group would file a Federal suit demanding that the General Services Administration do a study, which found that the great number of visitors would have "no adverse effect on the area," be reexamined.
Stephen E. Smith, a Kennedy in-law who heads the John F. Kennedy Library Corporation decided that "we want the Kennedy Library to be a happy place. It would not be in keeping with the nature of this memorial for it to open in an atmosphere of discord and controversy." And in February, 1975 the plans for having the library where President Kennedy would have wanted it, were dropped.
The new location of the site was Columbia Point in the Dorchester neighborhood of Boston, near the University of Massachusetts Boston, described as a group of "massive, blocky structures…in sharp contrast to the mellow and urbane atmosphere of the library's original site near Harvard Square." The site was originally a garbage dump, Pei recalls finding old refrigerators and appliances under the soil. In all seriousness, he asserted that one could toss a lit match on the earth and watch the ground ignite as the soil emitted methane gas. One thing the site did have going for it was that the community was not opposed to the area being landscaped to house the library.
June 12, 1977 marked the official groundbreaking for the library with construction following in August. Although the site was a landfill it did overlook Boston, Dorchester Bay and the ocean. The area was covered in 15 feet of earth and topsoil. Pei was particularly proud of the landscaping results.
The design would be a simple geometric structure with a large glass pavilion. The concrete tower stands 125 feet tall and houses offices and archives. A circular section contains two theaters and is connected to the tower by the 115 foot grey-glass pavilion. The concrete finish of the building directly reflects the budget. With more money Pei would have made the building with stone which he believes offers a nicer finish with more detail. The materials chosen kept the costs within budget, in total costing $20.8 million.
Over 30 million people contributed to the cost of construction, which more than 225 construction workers worked to complete before the end of 1979.
The official dedication was held on October 20, 1979. Outside the building on the green, on a blue-carpeted stage with a bank of yellow chrysanthemums sat the Kennedy family and those close to them. Among many others, President Jimmy Carter was in their company. The ceremony began with President Kennedy's daughter, Caroline Kennedy, introducing her brother, John F. Kennedy, Jr., who read from the Stephen Spender poem, I Think Continually of Those Who Were Truly Great.
President Carter said of John F. Kennedy that he embodied "the ideals of a generation as few public figures have ever done in the history of the earth." He spoke of openly weeping upon hearing about the death of Kennedy, something that he had not done since his own father died, ten years before. Afterwards, he accepted the library "on behalf of the American people" and the National Archives and Records Administration.
Senator Edward Kennedy, said of his brother's life, that it "was a voyage of discovery, a quest for excellence that inspired universal trust and faith. In that brief unfinished journey, he made us believe once more in the great historic purpose of this land. He filled America with pride and made the nation young again."
Critics generally liked the finished building, but the architect himself was unsatisfied. The years of conflict and compromise had changed the nature of the design, and Pei felt that the final result lacked its original passion. "I wanted to give something very special to the memory of President Kennedy," he said in 2000. "It could and should have been a great project." Perhaps the most important consequence of the Kennedy project for Pei was his elevation in the public's consciousness as an architect of note. Pei considered the John F. Kennedy Library "the most important commission in my life".
The library's first floor features a museum containing video monitors, family photographs, and political memorabilia. Visitors to the museum begin their visit by watching a film narrated by President Kennedy in one of two cinemas that show an orientation film - and a third shows a documentary on the Cuban Missile Crisis. They are then allowed to peruse the permanent exhibits on display, which include an exhibit on the US Space Program during Project Mercury; the Briefing Room is an exhibit on talks given to the public, at home and abroad; an exhibit on his presidential campaign trail; a look at the Kennedy Family; a section dedicated to the First Lady, and partial replicas of the Kennedy Oval Office and his brother Robert F. Kennedy's office as Attorney General at the Department of Justice Building, which has been named for him. After viewing the exhibits the visitors will find themselves under the glass pavilion. Other galleries display changing temporary exhibits. Outside the library during the spring, summer and fall is Kennedy's sailboat, Victura.
The audiovisual archives contain over 400,000 still photographs taken from 1863-1984, over 7.5 million feet of film shot between 1910-83, and 11,000 reels of audio recordings from 1910-85.
Begun in 1964, the oral-history project was a unique undertaking to document and preserve interviews with those associated with Kennedy. Initially expected to have about 150 participants,today it contains over 1,100 interviews and continues to this day. It is modeled after a program by the Columbia University Oral History Research Office, the world's oldest, which began in 1948. At its conception, while serving as Attorney General, Robert Kennedy speculated that some of the interviews, such as ones relating to the Cuban Missile Crisis might have to be sealed for a while, due to containing "highly classified material." He said that although the emphasis would be on releasing everything as soon as possible, some items might remain closed for 10 to 25 years.
The library keeps a wide range of artifacts, many of which can be found in their respective exhibits. One is the original coconut (pictured at right) on which a rescue message was inscribed by Kennedy to rescue the crew of the PT-109, and which was delivered by Biuku Gasa and Eroni Kumana, natives of the Solomon Islands.
Museum 7 days per week 9 am - 5 pm
Closed New Year's, Thanksgiving and Christmas Day
Last Introductory Film of the day is at 3:55 pm
Weekdays 8:30 am - 4:30 pm appointment only
Closed weekends and federal holidays
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum
Boston, MA 02125